, Walker: Saints players agree it’s time for college athletes to reap benefits of bringing in revenue | Saints

Pay them.

And no, that’s not just my opinion.

That’s also the sentiments of many of the guys who are already getting paid — members of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans — when asked about paying college athletes.

It’s been one of the hot topics this week ever since California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the “Fair Pay to Play” bill Monday that allowed college athletes in that state to earn money by using their names, images and likenesses.

“They are bringing all the money to the university, so they should get a little something,” said Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. “I know a lot of college players are broke a lot of times. Back in the day, the result of that was going to the boosters and getting stuff (illegally). A lot of these athletes come from nothing, tough situations. They are bringing the colleges all this money, but they are broke.”

California is the first state to pass such a law. Other states are expected to follow. Eleven other states (Florida, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland) are already considering similar legislation. Other states will surely be pressured to follow suit, so as not to be left behind when it comes to recruiting athletes to schools in their state.

Saints punter Thomas Morstead welcomes the change.

“It’s crazy to me that players are restricted differently than actual students on campus,” Morsead said. “I don’t have a problem with it at all. It absolutely should be done. People are going to argue that it is going to be a big bag of worms for the NCAA. What does that have to do with anything? There will just have to be an adjustment.”

Morstead, like several of his Saints teammates, played in college with guys who came from families who struggled financially.

“I knew guys in college who had nothing and slept on couches and sent their checks home to their moms because their families had nothing,” Morstead said. “To restrict those players ability to earn money to help their family is crazy to me. There is a lot of money rolling around.”

Indeed there is.

The NCAA made over $1 billion in revenue during the 2016-17 school year, the most ever.

“Apple makes electronic products, and those products make billions and billions of dollars,” said Saints linebacker Demario Davis. “Gas companies sell oil, and the oil is the product making trillions of dollars. The product in this case are the human beings. People come to watch the players on the field. Without the players, there is no game.”

There are those who rebut that saying the players are getting a free education. But Davis has a rebuttal for that too.

“People can say a free education is enough,” Davis said. “But if the game was only making thousands of dollars or equivalent to what education is for that school, that’s one thing. But when it’s millions of dollars, it’s only fair that they be compensated for being a product.”

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater sees “pros and cons” of it all.

“I don’t want the money to take away from the pride,” Bridgewater said. For me, that was a positive. I had a chance to go to school with a lot of guys I grew up with. We all motivated each other. Money wasn’t an issue. We all knew where we came from and we knew if we didn’t take care of business, we could end up back there. When money comes in, you might not have that same passion for the game. It becomes a business, and when you have that in college football, it could take away from the pageantry and the unique part of the game and just the love of the game.”

Bridgewater, who attended the University of Louisville, says it didn’t bother him to see his collegiate jersey being sold around campus and him not making any money from it.

But if schools are making money off a popular player’s jersey, shouldn’t that player get something?

Sheldon Rankins thinks so. 

“A lot of these kids come from situations where they are taking their scholarship checks and sending it back home to keep the lights on and to keep food in their family’s mouth,” Rankins said. “If players coming from those type of environments can go to college and can put on the type of athletic display that they want to and are able to benefit from it just a little bit to help themselves out and help their families out so people don’t have to struggle and pinch pennies, I’m all for it.”

So is defensive end Cam Jordan. Jordan, the son of a former NFL player, went to school at the University of California in Berkeley. His roommate came from a family who struggled.

“He had a scholarship, but we’re living in Oakland and rent is high,” Jordan said. “After rent and cellphone bill, you’re still out of money.”

The players across the way from the Saints echo some of the same feelings. Pelicans rookie guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who grew up in Canada and attended Virginia Tech, says earning a little bit of money in school would have helped him. But he thinks it would’ve been even more beneficial for a player like Zion Williamson, his high-profile teammate who had millions of college basketball fans tuning in to watch Duke play last season.

“You can only imagine how much money he’s brought to the NCAA and for him to not get a single thing except for scholarship money,” Alexander-Walker said. “Yeah, it’s a great education. But he’s doing so much more for the school outside of education.”

For the law to work though, the playing field will have to be even for all 50 states. As is, California’s law, which goes into effect in 2023, would give schools in that state a decisive recruiting advantage. There will have to be some type of national standard to make it fair for schools all across the country. It’ll be up to the NCAA or national lawmakers or both to figure that out. It will take a complete change of mindset, especially the ones in the NCAA offices in Indianapolis. That could be perhaps the biggest obstacle.

“When people are in power, they aren’t trying to give up power,” Jordan said. “There is a whole dynamic shift, and now the NCAA has to partake in that? They aren’t trying to lose any revenue, wherever it’s going.”

There are those who think paying athletes won’t be fair across the board. Only a few star players at each school will reap the benefits, they say.

“Well great, good for those five guys,” Morstead said. “But I think it will affect more than five guys on every team, especially at some of the bigger schools. Players, well anybody, should be able to go and earn anything. No one is cheating the game. Players should have that ability to go out and do that.”

Or as Lattimore plainly puts it…

“If you are bringing the money in, pay them.”

It’s time. 

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